LAKEWOOD RANCH -- They dared to dream and still do.
The 95th anniversary of women's right to vote was celebrated Saturday at the Polo Grill ballroom in Lakewood Ranch for the annual Manatee and Sarasota Women's Equity Celebration.
Guest speaker Dorothy Ridings, former president of the League of Women Voters of the United States and publisher of the Bradenton Herald from 1988-1996 among her many accomplishments, urged the suffragist legacy to be continued.
A captivated audience of roughly 300 listened, laughed and reflected as Ridings took them back through some of her own advocacy by reading excerpts from her former weekly column.
"Dateline August 1993, my column for that Sunday began this way: 'Women's Equality Day passed without a ripple in Manatee County last Thursday. What's that you say? Haven't heard of it?' " she said.
She wondered why more wasn't being done locally to honor the occasion. She fast-forwarded a year ahead to a column from August 1994, which she said began with a statement listing the many historic events that took place in the Tampa Bay area and country in 1920.
"My column said: 'These events were lustily celebrated on Friday at Manatee County's first 19th Amendment luncheon. The event drew some 200 people to a balloon-filled room at the Holiday Inn Riverfront,' " Ridings said.
Betty Castor, then-president of the University of South Florida, was guest speaker during the inaugural celebration, she said.
"She told the crowd: 'When you consider that this nation denied women the right to vote for 144 years, and to this day continues to tolerate discrimination against women in so many forms, I think the progress we have made is nothing short of remarkable. In fact it's outstanding,' " she said. "And so it is and so it remains, remarkable."
Ridings spoke of the job remaining in the quest for equity.
"But with so much yet to do, and to do it we are energized by remembering where we came from," she said. "We honor those amazing women who led us through the progress Betty talked about that day, by reclaiming their passion and their advocacy to do things along with even greater gender equality."
Ridings referred to the September issue of Vanity Fair, which published results of a poll of more than 1,000 adults on issues of gender inequality. It asked one question talked about gender rights, she said.
"When did the Equal Rights Amendment become part of the U.S. constitution?" Ridings said.
Forty-eight percent of respondents gave various dates, 27 percent said they didn't know and only 25 percent said never, which is the right answer she said.
Attempts are still being made to resuscitate the amendment, she said.
Equality issues are part of many jokes today, Ridings said, adding she did not care for most. One, however, recently made her chuckle she said, regarding the announcement a woman yet to be chosen would be printed on the $10 bill in 2020 in honor of the 100-year-anniversary of women being granted the right to vote
"My laugh came when a friend said she didn't think it was a good idea to put a woman on the $10 bill because then that bill would only be worth $7.80," she said.
The annual luncheon was sponsored by the Manatee and Sarasota League of Women Voters, Sarasota Commission on the Status of Women and Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice branches of the Association of University Women.
Among hundreds of accomplished women from Manatee and Sarasota counties, there were some men in attendance showing their support of the cause, including Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie.
"This is a great event. It honors women," Chappie said. "Women have been so important to our nation's history, and Manatee and Sarasota county."
Chappie said he is not threatened by successful women. He admires them.
"We really need to honor those contributions. We've had so many great women leaders in Manatee County," Chappie said.
Manatee County School Board member Karen Carpenter said she was thrilled to hear the familiar voice speak. Carpenter said she had the opportunity to work with Ridings when she was with the Women's Resource Center and "Dot" was publisher of the Herald.
"She was very supportive of women's causes and issues," Carpenter said. "She's spot on about wage discrimination and wage inequality. That's got to stop."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.